Saturday, January 12, 2008

Programmers: Do We Want Scientists or Engineers?

Alex Hung:

Good computer science graduates do not make good software developers. Really, I mean it. But for the polar opposite reason that these two New York University computer science professors think.

When I was in high school my physics teacher once told us, "All physics experiments work. They just may not work the way you want them to."

This encapsulates neatly what software development is all about. On one hand, it is science. It is deterministic. Each programming language statement performs exactly as stated (baring bugs in the compiler, or the SDK, or the OS). On the other hand, software development is closer to engineering where years of experience allows a software developer to spot patterns in the model and apply them to build a system.

Unfortunately, just as in physics, computer science courses do not prepare students for what comes after graduation. Skills that are considered crucial in almost all commercial software projects are either not taught in college or are only touched upon. This disparity between the skills graduates possess and what the industry is looking for means it generally takes one to two years of working in real life project for a graduate to become fully trained.

If computer science departments are not willing to prepare students for real life jobs, perhaps another department (Electrical Engineering for example) or a completely new one should take over that role? After all, you wouldn't want a scientist to build a bridge now, would you?

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